German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall will open a tank and armored vehicle plant in Ukraine within the next 12 weeks, CEO Armin Papperger has told CNN. The company claims it will be able to produce 400 tanks per year at the facility, but Russia has already threatened to halt production with missile strikes.
The factory will be located in western Ukraine and jointly operated by Rheinmetall and Ukrainian state weapons firm Ukroboronprom, CNN reported on Monday, citing an interview with Papperger last week.
“[Ukrainians] have to help themselves,” he said. “If they always have to wait [for] Europeans or Americans [to] help them over the next 10 or 20 years… that is not possible.”
Rheinmetall first announced its plans to develop a facility in March, with the company stating at the time that the plant would cost $200 million to build, and would be capable of turning out 400 of its latest ‘Panther’ tanks per year.
Papperger told CNN that Rheinmetall’s ‘Fuchs’ armored personnel carriers would be the first vehicles to roll off the factory’s production lines. He added that Ukrainian workers would be trained to build and repair these as well as Rheinmetall’s other products, which include Marder infantry fighting vehicles, Leopard 2 tanks and Panzerhaubitze 2000 artillery systems.
Russia regularly strikes military targets in western Ukraine with drones and cruise missiles, and considers stockpiles of foreign weapons and military vehicles to be legitimate targets. Rheinmetall’s factory would be no exception, Russian Security Council deputy chairman Dmitry Medvedev warned in March.
“If [the] Krauts still go on with it for real, they’re very welcome,” he wrote on social media. “The decision should be greeted with fireworks by Kalibrs and other Russian pyrotechnic devices.”
Papperger insisted to CNN that Rheinmetall could protect its factory. “There are a lot of factories at the moment which are producing military goods [in Ukraine]. It is just another one, and we can protect that also,” he said, without elaborating on how he would achieve this.
The conflict in Ukraine has boosted Rheinmetall’s earnings to record levels, with the firm making €6.4 billion ($7 billion) last year, an increase of 27% from 2021. As well as building a plant in Ukraine, Rheinmetall plans on expanding its factory in Lower Saxony and hiring hundreds of new workers as it works through a €28.2 billion backlog of orders, German newspaper Die Welt reported earlier this month.